Nuggets From Ryland Engelhart's Call
Posted by Preeta Bansal on Mar 14, 2021
When entrepreneur Ryland Engelhart was feeling hopeless about the damage humans were doing to the planet, a solution so obvious was practically hidden beneath his own two feet: the soil. Discovering that healthy soil can help balance out gases in the atmosphere, Engelhart co-founded Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit seeking to awaken more “soil advocates,” educate consumers, and train farmers in regenerative practices to help sequester carbon from the atmosphere and reverse global warming. Engelhart was born into a family of love activists—practitioners of “sacred commerce,” who opened an organic vegan restaurant called Cafe Gratitude. Their experiment: What will happen if we use the workspace to cultivate love, gratitude, connection and trust? Engelhart’s foundation in service leads him to sow seeds of sacred commerce, gratitude, and the regeneration of our planet.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call and from the transcript that stood out:
On the sources of his becoming a "love activist", or realizing at a young age that love was what he was serving in the world, regardless of delivery vehicle:
In the social dynamics of this world, we're oftentimes asking people what they're up to, what are they doing? And we’re always looking for the next project to point to. The inner reflection I kept getting when I'd be in social circumstances and I’d find myself trying to make up what I'm doing and how to best articulate something that I'm up to that'll sound impressive or, you know, fulfilling to the asking question of “What's next? “What's going on?”
And there would be this inner reflection that your life is for being love. So when people say “What's up?,” you can say “my life is about being love right here, right now.” And then I would hear in that inner dialog with myself and with my inner being or wherever that inner dialog was coming from was the sort of cynical perspective of “Well, what does that mean? What's that about? What does that do? Does that really make a difference?”
And then there would be this calm reflection of “What else are you looking for? Right here, right now, is there anything beyond the experience of love that you want for yourself (or for any other) to experience?”
It’s a more subtle indwelling sort of experience, a reflection, a whisper. But really where it turned into a way of life and something I was really clear about was when I was maybe 20 or 22 years old, when I did this New Warrior training with my father. ...
Love is not something we find in the world in people, places and things. It's something that we bring to those people, places and things. Love is an indwelling source that is eternal and that we can tap into and connect to -- that we always have the choice to be love no matter what we're in the face of, no matter the controversy. So it has really been the thing that’s walked with me through this whole life. How can I practice showing up and remembering that love is something that’s within me? -- and that when I’m connected to that indwelling presence, it gives me a stability and an unmess-with-ability with doing service-based work.
His family origins and emphasis on oneness/spirituality: I had the real opportunity of growing up in a household where the philosophy was that we are all one, and that essentially life is this totality and that God, not in some specific orthodoxy, is the space that holds all things. And that we are all cells in one body and how can we operate with this understanding of oneness? – that the other is part of the self and that we are all one. And how would we treat each other, if we knew that we were all one?
And so that was sort of some element of the spiritual understanding in the household. We had a meditation room that I mostly used as a wrestling room (laughs), but we had a meditation room with a picture of Krishna and Maharshi on the walls. And yeah, there was just a practice of what we often call mindfulness now, where my mom would always say, “be conscious of your words. Your words are casting spells. Your words create worlds. If you condemn things, you are creating destruction with your words.”
On the founding principles behind Cafe Gratiude: It was really about, “can we demonstrate a business that has an expression of love and consciousness that is transformative and reflects something that inspires other people to take on a similar business venture which we had called at the time ‘sacred commerce’?” ...
Essentially the intention of sacred commerce is, how do we use the enterprise of a business, the framework of a business, to not just create capital and generate revenue and income, but also, can we awaken that which is sacred? Can we end the exchange, can we take a transactional relationship of business and turn it into a transformational experience?
One of the ways that Cafe Gratitude did that at the most obvious level was, we offered a “question of the day”, which I have seen become connected and used in many different ways and in different settings -- by saying not only are we going to serve a product, but that we are going to create a conversation and a dialogue in this environment by prompting people with a question that brings them from their head into their heart.
The essence of gratitude was the question, what are you grateful for? When we are grateful, we are brought into a momentary experience of fulfillment and a momentary experience of the insatiable hungry ghost (wanting more) is satiated for a second. Because we are recognizing what we already have, there is a salve in the insatiability of more. The idea of sacred commerce was, could we create an environment where we were waking up our guests to gratitude, love, connection, more intimacy, and healing? Could we also create a container for our employees where people experienced personal transformation? They became more emotionally available and more connected to expressing their feelings. Could they become better at acknowledging and appreciating the things in their life? So, what we would say is that Cafe Gratitude was a restaurant disguised as a school of transformation.
That was our intention and that was the intention of sacred commerce. Can we use the mundane aspects of business and create an experience of transformation for our guests and for our employees as well?
His turning to focus on raising awareness and collective awakening about the potential of regenerative agriculture and the soil solution: I had always been kind of an evangelist for something, whether it was gratitude, plant-based food, veganism, environmental activism, love activism, being love. And then this became the thing that I was so lit up to communicate about and share with and awaken for others. ... This moment of awakening for me [learning about the potential of soil as climate solution] totally changed my worldview and everything in my life, as far as how I was seeing what was possible, and so I wanted to give that awakening experience to others. And that's really what we've been focusing on and doing that through changing or creating awareness through building media content. ...
When you see some possibility and you just follow it in an uncompromising way, remarkable transformation can occur. I'm just sitting in that beautiful moment and obviously, it's still just the very beginning, but the clear message that was put on my heart was that this message could be awakened to the collective, around the world, household name, household understanding, and in a little way that that has been realized.
On the role of diet, and embracing the role of animals in agriculture, despite strictly vegan roots: we were vegans on a vegetable farm growing vegetables for our vegan restaurants. And then we started to interview and learn from other organic farmers. And we started to understand that nature in its design has always had the interaction of animals, plants, microorganisms, soil, and humans. And that there's been this interaction that is essential -- and specifically between animals and grasses, that the healthiest soils on the planet were co-created from large herds of grass-eating animals that would graze and rotate over that land and that life cycle would ultimately create this expansion and continual building of fertility in that soil. ... [T[o do farming in the most natural way, or regenerative way, we need to mimic and reflect those design principles of nature. And to build healthy soil, animals have always been a part of that system. ,.,
Everything in that cycle needs to bring something to the table and, in that process, over almost an eight-year period, we really started to realize, “wow, there was a real intrinsic relationship within nature,” which is, everything is living and dying, and there is cycling of life. But in that living and dying of life on that land, you can create this perpetual expansion of fertility and expansion of life getting better on that piece of land. That was 21 acres. To continue to create fertility and life on that land, we needed to have that animal integration to create continual soil fertility so that we could grow other crops, such as grains and vegetables. That was our personal journey, that was our experience, our learning and so it led to us sort of veering away from being vegan.
We actually went through the process of really having a hard, honest look at this cycling of life and ended up harvesting two cows on our farm, and took ourselves through that process, which was very difficult, but felt integral for us to really understand this life cycle of life and death and that there is this life and death that is necessary to sustain the greater life.
Advice for urban dwellers - to stick with plant-based (not animal-based) diet: I would say that for urban dwellers, a plant-based diet is a really great choice to say: "no, I don't want to support the abusive animals, the destructive system that's environmentally, as well as from an animal rights perspective, I'm gonna stay away from that." And that's a beautiful way to be and to look deeper into the nuts and bolts of how food production happens. I think it's inescapable that life and death take place on our plate, whether we can see that animal or the life of that animal .... It's just really about how we can support food that is being cultivated in a way that's creating a greater caring capacity and a greater expression of life on the land that's producing that food.
Kiss the Ground inspired by Rumi, as an expression of love: I think really Kiss the Ground was inspired by Rumi -- the poet who's really been a beautiful emissary and sort of illuminator of truth and wisdom to me and my family. The poem that inspired Kiss the Ground is "Let the beauty you love, be all that you do. There's hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Yeah, really words do matter. The words of Kiss the Ground really were this: How can we shape a new relationship to our earth? How can it become commonplace that it would be a normal act to kiss the earth, kiss the ground, kiss our soil -- because our soil is the studs, the substrate, the substance that all of our nourishment, that our life depends on. How can we reshape that narrative of, again as you said, “dirt”. “You're dirty. Treat them like dirt.” There's a diminishment and a lack of reverence. And how do we create a new relationship to our earth that is one of reverence and one of love? And that really was and is the intention of Kiss the Ground. Can we change the narrative to remembering to love our mother Earth? Kiss the Ground, the movie, is a love story of human beings loving the earth in a way that helps it heal and regenerate.
How to remain active on the soil as solution issue:
- Connect to your food: The biggest thing that urban dwellers can do is become more closely connected to where our food's coming from. So, if you have farmer's markets, find a farmer who is practicing soil health practices on their farm and champion them. Have them win. Talk about them, share their story on social media, make a video about them, tell all your friends, host a dinner party and really be connected to where your food is coming from. And start to know that your food can be part of the solution, not just by doing less harm, but actually can be regenerating land. And Kiss the Ground, on our website, kisstheground.com, we actually have a purchasing guide that allows people to purchase food through the lens of soil health and how can we purchase in a way that supports soil health.
- Become a soil ambassador: if you go to kisstheground.com, you can become a soil advocate. which is a self-led course -- it's about eight hours of content that really has you become a powerful communicator around the potential and possibility of regenerative ag as a solution to so many of our problems.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!